Indiana: 2020 Legislative Session Ends with Big Wins for Sportsmen and Women

Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager

Back in January, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation reported about Indiana Senate Bill 325. This bill would have ensured that the public had access to the Lake Michigan shoreline, one of the Hoosier State’s most precious resources. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 325 never made it out of the Senate. Late in the session, the language was inserted into Senate Bill 433 sponsored by Indiana Sportsmen’s Caucus members Senator Blake Doriot and Representative Shane Lindauer. The language was later removed and inserted into House Bill 1385, sponsored by Indiana Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Sean Eberheart. House Bill 1385 passed out of the Senate Conference Committee on March 10and the House Conference Committee on March 11. On March 11 it was sent to Governor Holcomb, member of the Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus, and is currently awaiting his signature.  

Originally part of Senate Bill 325, the language pertaining to access of the Lake Michigan shoreline is consistent with the Indiana Supreme Court’s 2018 finding in Gunderson v. State which held that, absent an authorized legislative conveyance before February 14, 2018, the state has title up to the ordinary high watermark along the lakeshore of Lake Michigan. This bill reaffirmed that the portion of Lake Michigan that falls within Indiana’s boundary is owned by the state to be held in trust for the use and enjoyment of all citizens of Indiana. It also provides that a landowner whose property borders Lake Michigan does not have the exclusive right to use the water or land below the ordinary high-water mark of Lake Michigan. 

This legislation empowers the Indiana Natural Resource Commission to determine how the lake shore may be used by the public. Current activates include: Walking, fishing, boating, swimming, and any other recreational purpose for which Lake Michigan is ordinarily used, as recognized by the commission. 

It also affirms that the citizens of Indiana have a vested right to enjoy the natural scenic beauty of Lake Michigan; enjoy and use the natural resources of Lake Michigan; and use Lake Michigan for recreational purposes. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation worked with legislators and its partners to help preserve access and the rights of sportsmen and women to use this world-class resource.     

House Bill 1385 had several other big wins for Indiana’s sportsmen and women. This bill includes removing the 2020 sunset on the use of high-powered rifles on private lands after an extensive study was found that the use of high-powered rifles on private land did not have a negative effect on public safety or the deer population. It also includes language that would increase the maximum length of a hunting or fishing license suspension, bringing Indiana more in line with other states when it comes to punishments for wildlife violators. Currently, Indiana law allows for a maximum suspension of one year. 

This legislation addresses many of the top priorities that the sportsmen’s community had identified prior to the 2020 legislative session. Thanks to the efforts of the community and members of the Indiana Sportsmen’s Caucus, House Bill 1385 now awaits the Governor’s signature. 

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